As the NFL’s Wild Card weekend finishes up today, Broncos fans have been left out in the cold for the first time since 2010.
The Denver Broncos went 4-12 that year, primarily behind the lackluster performances of quarterback Kyle Orton, and a defense that had far too many holes in it. In fact, the defense allowed nearly 30 points per game that season, while Orton led the offense to just a 21-point average.
It looked like more of the same the following season, when the team started off 1-4, and Orton looked less inspired than ever. The journeyman quarterback had thrown just nine touchdowns, with eight interceptions, and Denver was going nowhere fast.
Head coach John Fox finally gave in to grumblings of the home crowd in Week 5 against the San Diego Chargers and sent in the backup quarterback.
Suddenly, Tim Tebow breathed a little life into a season that was circling the drain. Tebow led the Broncos to two fourth quarter touchdowns in the home loss to San Diego. Following a bye week in Week 6, the Broncos traveled to Miami to face the 0-5 Dolphins. Yet through the first 57 minutes, it looked like more of the same. Denver struggled to move the ball, Tebow was erratic, and the Broncos were trailing 15-0 to a team looking for their first win of the season.
Then it was Tebow time.
He took advantage of a sagging defense, used his legs, and generated enough of a passing attack to generate some quick late scores. The team surrounding Tebow would feed off the excitement of the young quarterback. Suddenly the defense was raising their game, and the special teams were coming up with clutch plays. Tebow led the Broncos to an improbable 18-15 win against the Dolphins, and it was just the beginning of Tebow fever in the Rocky Mountain region.
The Broncos somehow went on to win seven of their next eight games, with Tebow at the helm, and Denver fans had never been more divided.
Tebow supporters loved the kid’s playground performances. They knew a game was never over as long as #15 had the ball in his hands. It may not have been pretty, but it was effective, and it had to be better than Kyle Orton. Critics hated his inaccurate passing, and pointed to the inconsistencies of the Broncos offense.
Looking back, both sides were probably right.
Bronco fans everywhere were united together however, when Denver hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers five years ago today, on January 8th, 2012.
Denver was just 8-8, but as the AFC West winner, the 12-4 Steelers would have to come play the game in the Mile-High City. The Broncos were a 7.5 underdog, at home. Tebow couldn’t possibly beat Ben Roethlisberger, and the big bad Steelers, right?
Tebow and the Broncos jumped out to a 20 to 6 lead at halftime, but the high-powered Steeler offense would rally, and tie the game at 23. The game was headed to overtime, and the Broncos would receive the ball first.
It was the perfect scenario for the legend of Tebow.
On the first play of the extra period he connected on a short slant pass to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. The big wideout then raced through the Pittsburgh secondary, for an 80-yard game-winning touchdown.
The Tebow era in Denver was short and divisive. If we hadn’t witnessed it, we might not have believed it.
Whether you loved him or hated him, Tim Tebow brought a spark of excitement to the Broncos franchise when it was sorely needed, and his implausible playoff victory still holds a spot in Broncos playoff lore.